In what will be seen down the years as a landmark ruling the Supreme Court on Wednesday 31st October 2010 acquitted Aasia Bibi a Christian woman now aged about 51, of blasphemy. She had been convicted in 2010 and sentenced to death, and had been imprisoned ever since.
Recent reports are that her health is poor and that she was held in isolation from other prisoners, cooking her own food for fear of being poisoned. The Justices set aside an earlier judgment that had been passed by a lower court and ordered her immediate release ‘if no other cases are pending.’
The 56-page judgment contains dense citation of Islamic jurisprudence but for the common man there is a forensic dissection of the flaws in the original case that have left an innocent woman languishing on death row for almost a decade.
There are innumerable flaws in the original prosecution case, police and evidential procedures were not followed properly or at all, witnesses changed their stories several times and in the middle of it all a muddled and confused altercation between women in a field picking falsa. The argument arose from one of the small intolerances that curse the life of the nation – one woman refused to accept a drink of water from the hand of another.
From this arose a monstrous injustice. It was compounded every time there was a hearing into the matter and it was obvious even years ago that the death sentence was unsafe. At the time of writing it is unknown whether Aasia Bibi has been released and there is a swirl of unconfirmed rumours as to her whereabouts.
It is unlikely that she would be safe if she stayed in Pakistan, and the government would wish to avoid the embarrassment of anything untoward happening to her. Several countries have behind the arras said that they would be willing to grant her and her family asylum and it may be assumed that is in process if it has not already happened.
Credit is due to the judges of the Supreme Court who delivered a belated justice. They will themselves now be at hazard from the extremists who will violently disagree with their verdict. There are reports of rioting in Karachi and Lahore, but other parts of the country remain quiet, including south Punjab which might have been expected to ignite at the news.
Yet again the Blasphemy Law has been abused by the original complainant, with dreadful consequences. Salman Taseer was murdered for his defence and support of Aasia Bibi let it not be forgotten. He did not die in vain. Pakistan has much to learn from this shameful episode, lessons that sadly many will not want to hear. We wish safe passage to Aasia Bibi and her family.